CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- At 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, right wing Mikko Rantanen stood out at Colorado Avalanche development camp, where he aimed to make a positive first impression before heading to training camp in September.
Rantanen, 18, was the Avalanche's first-round pick (No. 10) at the 2015 NHL Draft. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract Monday and his goal is to make the opening-night roster (Oct. 8 vs. the Minnesota Wild), just as Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon did in his first pro season.
"I will do everything I can to be there and fight for a place in the lineup," Rantanen said. "I know it's hard and it will take hard work, but I will do everything I can and fight as hard as I can to be there. It was an awesome feeling to hear my name called by Colorado, and I'm looking forward to training camp."
Mikko Rantanen is hoping to be on Colorado's opening night roster this season. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Avalanche were looking to add size this summer after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and they considered trading up in the draft to ensure Rantanen would be available.
"We decided to gamble, and he was there," coach Patrick Roy said. "We were pretty happy to see him there. He's exactly what we were looking for, size, and a player that has good skating ability."
Rantanen, who is from Nousiainen, Finland, had nine goals, 19 assists and 22 penalty minutes in 56 games last season, his second with TPS Turku in Liiga, Finland's top league, while serving as an alternate captain. He had four goals in five games at the 2015 World Junior Championship and was the top European skater in NHL Central Scouting's final draft rankings.
"I think it has been helping me to play against men the past two years in Finland," he said. "I think it has helped me a lot."
Rantanen said he isn't concerned about playing on smaller NHL rinks and that he felt comfortable during the World Junior tournament in Montreal and Toronto.
"I actually enjoy playing on a small rink," he said. "The World Juniors was my second time playing on small rinks. I enjoy that more. Things happen quicker and faster, so it's good. Small rink or big rink, you can play hockey if you are good."
Rantanen started playing hockey at age 4 in Nousiainen, which is in western Finland. He said his parents "were always watching hockey" and had season tickets for TPS Turku.
Fellow countrymen Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne were his favorite NHL players, but Sidney Crosby turned him into a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, an allegiance that will have to change now that he's with Colorado.
"My strengths are making plays, having hockey sense and of course protecting the puck and playing near the boards," Rantanen said. "One thing I try to do is be big and try to help the team with that. Hard work."
The 22 players who participated in Colorado's July 7-9 development camp spent nearly a full day under the supervision of skating coach Tracy Tutton, a technical specialist with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League who has worked with several NHL teams.
"It was nice to skate with the skating coach and try to learn new things," Rantanen said. "I'll try to learn from those when I go back to Finland, some techniques to get more explosive in my skating.
"I feel confident. When I go back home I'll work hard and improve my weaknesses to be ready to fight for a place in training camp. Explosiveness to my skating, the first couple strides. And my shot can always be harder and quicker."
The Avalanche won't put any pressure on Rantanen, whose options if he doesn't make the NHL this year are to return to Europe or play for the San Antonio Rampage, Colorado's new American Hockey League affiliate.
"I would like to see him play for us, but we're certainly going to be very patient," Roy said. "He'll come to camp and we'll see how it goes."